Anyone who knows me or who reads this blog even occasionally knows that I am a sports fan in the true sense of the word’s etymology— “fanatic.” My fanaticism is focused and selective. I pay no attention to the NBA unless the Boston Celtics make a deep run in the playoffs (something that hasn’t happened for a few years). My interest in the NHL is similarly connected to whether the Bruins are in the playoffs. My obsessions, in ascending order of obsessiveness, are the New England Patriots, the Boston Red Sox, the Providence College Men’s Hockey Friars, and the Providence College Men’s Basketball Friars. Once the Red Sox finished last in 2015 for the third time in the last four years (they won the World Series the other year), little did I know that I was entering a fall/winter sports season that has so far been one for my record books. The Patriots and the two Friars squads have been doing nothing but win. I did encounter a sobering reality this past week though—losing is not as much fun as winning.
Consider the Patriots. Ten games into the season they sported a 10-0 record; comparisons were being made to the 2007 team that came one Super Bowl defensive stop short of having a perfect season and everything was great in Patriots Nation. Then injuries and sloppy play caught up with them and they limped into the playoffs with a 12-4 record, looking very much like a team that plans to be “one and done” when they play their first playoff game in ten days. I even had to suffer the indignity of going behind enemy lines and watching them lose to the despised New York Jets a couple of weeks ago at my brother-in-law’s house on Long Island surrounded by in-law Jets fans. I was gracious and took the high road—the Patriots had already clinched a spot in the playoffs and the Jets had to win to keep their hopes alive. I must say, though, that I took delight in seeing the Jets lose the next weekend and fail to make the playoffs after all. The Patriots may do fine in ten days, but I’m not holding my breath. One thing I do know—losing is not as much fun as winning.
Consider the PC Friars hockey team. I wrote in this blog last April about their astounding run to the NCAA National Hockey Championship last winter—one of my most memorable sports experiences.
This season they have played as if they intend to repeat as champions, going undefeated in the first half of the season that ended at Christmas with a 12-0-3 record and ranked #1 in the country for six consecutive weeks. Then last week happened. The Friars played in a between-Christmas-and-New-Year’s tournament in Florida of all places; they were upset by Cornell in overtime in the first game for their first loss of the season (they won the next day). Four days later they were beaten by in-town rival Brown University (we had beaten them 4-1 a few weeks earlier) in an even larger upset. I understand the whole “throw the comparative records out” truism about in-town rivals, but it sucks to lose to a team that has only won three games all year. Don’t they realize who they were playing? We’re the national champions, for God’s sake!
In the latest rankings, the Friars have “tumbled” from #1 to #3. Tonight we play mighty Boston College at their place, then tomorrow night here in Providence—two very important league games (we’re still undefeated in league play). Two wins will right the ship and propel us toward a vigorous defense of our national title when playoff time comes. Because one thing I know for sure—losing is not as much fun as winning.
Consider the PC Friars basketball team. They have gradually become the talk of college basketball nationwide by starting the season 14-1 with wins over two top-ten ranked teams away from home and with their only loss being to the team that was at the time ranked #1 in the country (we were in the lead with just six minutes left in that game). We were on the sports world’s radar at the beginning of the season because our point guard is a strong candidate for national player of the year and is likely to be an NBA lottery pick in June—he stunned everyone but the most hopeful Friars fans by choosing not to jump to the NBA at the end of his sophomore year last season. But the team’s being this good came out of nowhere; after making it into the national Top 25 rankings a few weeks ago, they climbed to the rarified air of #8 last Monday, the first time in decades they’ve been ranked that high. On the same day an ESPN basketball person tweeted that at this point in the season the Friars arguably have the national player of the year, the national coach of the year, and the national most improved player of the year all on the same team. Friartown, to say the least, is going nuts.
Then last Tuesday happened. We hosted the Marquette Golden Eagles—the very team that we played (and defeated) last season when I was the honorary faculty bench coach for a game.
Marquette is my alma mater—I always want the Golden Eagles to do well, except when they play the Friars. The Friars were favored by ten points, coming into the game with an eight game winning streak and two Big East wins under our belt while Marquette had lost their first two league games. The crowd was nuts, everything looked great—then the game started. As the saying goes, this is why they play the games rather than just awarding the victory to the favored, higher ranked team. We looked out of sorts all night, couldn’t get our offense in synch and couldn’t play defense for long stretches of time. Marquette slapped a zone defense on us, which we approached in a similar fashion to the penguins struggling with a rope in this video:
Still, we came back from a big first-half deficit and took an eight-point lead in the second half—game over, I thought.
Not so much. Marquette didn’t realize they were supposed to stop playing at that point, caught us with a minute or so left, shut us down during our last possession, and won by a point. It’s funny how the rules declare the team with the most points at the end of the game the winner. In the post-game press conference, the coach annoyingly provided solid words of wisdom: “Understand this isn’t the end of the world. It’s a game. It’s our 16th game. Is it disappointing to lose? Absolutely. But we lost to a good basketball team and there is a lot of basketball to be played. It’s disappointing to lose at home but at the same time it’s a learning experience for the guys. We lost. Move on. You’re not going to go 30-1, 28-2.” The fanatic in me asks “Why not?” The realist in me says “Of course not. But losing is not as much fun as winning.”
The fact of the matter is that if your team makes the playoffs, the final game of the season will be a loss unless they win the championship. I have been fortunate as a fan to have my teams win a collective eight championships in the last fifteen years, but even with great programs that is the exception rather than the norm. One thing I know for sure: Losing is not as much fun as winning.